North Korea Leadership Watch

Research and Analysis on the DPRK Leadership

VMar Ri Yong Ho

updated February 25, 2018

Vice Marshal Ri Yong Ho is former Chief of the Korean People’s Army [KPA] General Staff and a former member of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee Political Bureau Presidium (standing committee) and Vice Chairman of the Party Central Military Commission.  VMar Ri played an instrumental role in establishing Kim Jong Un’s management of the KPA.  Ri was a member of the 2nd Revolutionary Generation of influential elites and had close personal ties to the late DPRK supreme leader Kim Jong Il.

Ri Yong Ho was born in Kangwo’n Province in 1942.  He was the son Ri Pong Su, a former defense minister who served with Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Suk in the 88th Sniper Brigade (partisans’ unit).  Ri attended Kim Il Sung Military Academy.  According to KCNA Ri Yong Ho has served as manager of KPA training schools, a divisional Chief of Staff and vice director of the GSD Operations Bureau.

Ri was promoted to Major General in April 2002, along with his supposed benefactor, Jang Song U who was promoted to Vice Marshal.  In 2003 Ri was appointed commanding officer of the Pyongyang Defense Command [PDC], replacing VMar Pak Ki So.  Command of the PDC is a prestigious position within the KPA, as it responsible for the protection of Pyongyang and its immediate vicinity.  The PDC commander traditionally has familial or marital relations to the Kim Family, or close personal ties to the Supreme Commander.

Ri Yong Ho (annotated), when he served as chief of the Pyongyang Defense Command, was part of a group that watched a soccer (football) game with Kim Jong Il in October 2008. The soccer game was the first observed and reported public appearance following Kim Jong Il’s strokes in August and September 2008 (Photo: KCNA)

In February 2009 Ri Yong Ho was appointed chief of the KPA General Staff, as part of one of the biggest command personnel shake-ups in the KPA’s history.  He replaced Gen. Kim Kyok Sik, who held in the position for only two years and was subsequently assigned command of the IV Army Corps.  The position afforded Ri a more prominent public profile.  Ri also worked on succession and transition planning, which would facilitate Kim Jong Un’s eventual assumption of power.

The cover of the KPA daily detailing a story on a statue unveiling ceremony in honor of KIS, KJI and Kim Jong Suk

In 2010 Gen. Ri appeared as a reporter or speaker at several significant events, often with NDC Member and GPB Senior Deputy Director, Gen. Kim Jong Gak.  Gen. Ri presided over a ceremony at the Ministry of the People’s Armed Forces, unveiling three bronze statues of Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Suk  and Kim Jong Il.  After midnight on 28 September 2010 Ri was promoted to Vice Marshal.  Later that day he delivered a speech on behalf of the KPA supporting Kim Jong Il’s re-election as General Secretary, during the 3rd Party Conference.  At the 3rd Party Conference, Ri was elected was elected Vice Chairman of the Party Central Military Commission, a position he shared with Kim Jong Un, and a member of the KWP Political Bureau’s Presidium.  Ri gave the keynote speech and participated in the troop inspection during the KPA parade held in October 2010 to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Korean Workers’ Party.

Kim Jong Un (seated, 2nd L) poses for a commemorative photograph at Kumsusan in September 2010. Among those in attendance are: VMAR Kim Yong Chun (seated L), VMAR Ri Yong Ho (seated, 2nd R), Jang Song Taek (standing, R) and Kim Yang Gon (standing 3rd R) (Photo: KCNA)

Ri Yong Ho led a KPA delegation on  a 5 day sojourn to Cuba that departed on 28 October 2010 and returned to the DPRK on 6 November.  During the visit, VMar Ri met with Raul Castro, and the KPA delegation toured a Cuban military school and watched an anti-tank exercise.  Ri also spoke at a graveside service for the late NDC 1st Vice Chairman and GPD Director, VMAR Jo Myong Rok in November 2010.  In November 2010 he served in a planning and command role as KPA forces fired hundred of artillery shells on Yo’n’py’ong Island, which resulted in the deaths of two ROK Marines and two civilians.  In January 2011, Ri spoke at the funeral and graveside service of Pak Jong Sun, an alternate (candidate) member of the Political Bureau and senior deputy (1st vice) director of the KWP Organization Guidance Department.

By mid-2011 his public appearances became infrequent.  At a parade commemorating the 63rd anniversary of the DPRK’s foundation on 9 September 2011, Kim Jong Il distinctly had to invite Ri to his spot on the review stand.  However, at KJI’s funeral that December, Ri had a prominent spot accompanying KJI’s hearse.  After Kim Jong Un’s accession, Ri was regularly seen accompanying Kim Jong Un.  However, he did not appear to give as many speeches or deliver as many public reports as in 2010.  VMar Ri did have a prominent place among the core leadership during celebrations of the 100th anniversary of Kim Il Sung’s birth in April 2012.  From 8 to 11 May 2012, Ri led an official KPA delegation on a visit to DPRK ally Laos.
On 15 July 2012, during a meeting of the KWP Political Bureau, VMar Ri was “relieved” of all of his positions.  According to KCNA, he was removed from office due to “illness.”  Described as “having only eyes for artillery,” Ri Yong Ho reportedly had an encyclopedic knowledge of artillery pieces and tactics.  Ri was married and had at least two children, one of whom worked as a foreign trade official.

Ri Yong Ho is standing left of Kim Jong Un in this image from April 2012 (Photo: KCNA-Yonhap)

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